ORLANDO, Fla. – The Virginia basketball team has been to the NCAA Tournament five times in the Tony Bennett era. At this point, there are two teams UVA fans don’t want to see there.
Florida knocked UVA out of the 2017 dance with a dominant 65-39 victory Saturday night at the Amway Center. That gave the Gators a pair of 26-point blowouts against the Hoos in the event, joining the same margin from the 71-45 win in 2012. Michigan State also has bounced Virginia twice in March Madness with back-to-back triumphs in 2014 and 2015.
This round of 32 defeat left the Cavaliers frustrated.
“Florida played a terrific game,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said. “You saw a really good defensive team play against a team that was really struggling offensively. But you can see why they’re good – their quickness, their athleticism. The thing that was frustrating is we really accomplished a lot this year. To end that way is obviously what really stings. It really does.”
The game began to unravel midway through the first half. Mamadi Diakite hit a jumper at the 11:42 mark for a 13-11 lead that carried to the media timeout 15 seconds later, but the Hoos managed only two more made shots the rest of the half on a pair of Darius Thompson buckets. Moments after Diakite’s shot gave UVA its final lead, the Gators’ Gorjok Gak got behind the defense in transition and dunked to push his team ahead 15-13.
Over the next 30 minutes, Florida flourished while Virginia vanished. That jam sparked a 16-4 surge to end the half, including a 12-0 burst at the end that ballooned to 21-0 early in the second half. During that push, UVA went scoreless for 7:55 between a Thompson runner at the 5:10 mark of the first half and a 3-point play by Diakite at the 17:15 mark of the second. That drought is the longest suffered by the offense this season.
That bucket stopped the run, but not the bleeding. The margin continued to grow from 40-20 to as many as 29 points.
Marial Shayok and London Perrantes, who carried the offense in the opener against UNCW, combined for 13 points on 4-of-21 shooting against the Gators. Shayok scored 7 points off the bench on 2-of-9 shooting, while Perrantes posted 6 points on 2-of-12 shooting. Thompson added 6 points on 3-of-7 shooting,while Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome did not make a shot on four attempts each. The Hoos combined to make 1 of 15 3-pointers (6.7%).
For Perrantes, it brought down the curtains on a tremendous career. He started more games than in anyone in school history and ended up in the top five for wins played in.
The best stat lines for UVA belonged to the frontcourt duo of Diakite and Jack Salt with Diakite starting for the first time in his career. Diakite registered 9 points and 6 rebounds. He made 4 of 8 shots. Salt came through with 8 points and a career-high 10 rebounds on 4-of-5 shooting.
“Obviously, the guards were quick. They got into the ball,” Perrantes said. “But I think it helps when they have, obviously, like Coach said, length in the frontcourt. So if you get by that first guy, you’re meeting some athletic, tall guys in the paint. Obviously, when we got some open looks, we didn’t hit those either. So they kind of just packed that paint and basically dared us to make a three. I think we made one tonight. I don’t think you’re going to win a game like that.”
The Hoos tried to battle. The Cavaliers sent multiple lineups to the floor and essentially threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the problem, including the five-guard look that sparked a comeback against UNC Wilmington on Thursday. Nothing worked.
In the end, UVA made just 16 of 54 shots for 29.6% shooting. The program’s worst outing in the NCAA Tournament came in the 1991 game with BYU when that team shot an equally dismal 27.7%. The Wahoos hit 7 of their first 20 shots (35.0%), but made just 9 of the next 34 (26.5%). The 39 points produced out of that represented the lowest point total in the tourney in program history.
”We tried,” Bennett said. “We went four guards at times. Tried to spread the floor, ball screen a little more. They’re pretty good. We tried our whole package really, basically different things, different lineups. Got some decent shots, but, again, you go 1-of-15, and then the defense, it got a little shook.”
Indeed, the Gators took advantage of the sputtering Cavaliers and the rotating lineups. Florida got spot-up 3-pointers, pull-up 3-pointers, drives to the rim, post-ups, dunks, and just about anything else you can imagine in the second half when it shot 47.8%. The Gators finished the game shooting 46%, including 38.1% (8-21) from 3-point range.
Devin Robinson and Justin Leon set the tone at the forward position with 14 points each as part of a double-double for each. Robinson added 11 rebounds, while Leon snared 10. Kevarrius Hayes, Chris Chiozza, and Canyon Barry had 7 points each.
Without Isaiah Wilkins, who sat out after trying to play through an illness in the Thursday game, UVA simply had no answers. That wrapped up a season that saw the Hoos win 23 games for the fifth straight year and make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth year in a row too. They also secured a tourney win for the fourth straight time too.
Considering the absence of Wilkins in the finale, the dismissal of Austin Nichols in November, and the loss of program stalwarts Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, and Evan Nolte, there was plenty to appreciate from the season. The challenge now is to grow from the ending.
“I told this team a few nights ago they’re one of my favorite teams,” Bennett said. “I might have to rethink – no, I’m just kidding. I still feel that way about them because we lost a lot. There was a lot of expectations, but they did a lot. Take this game away – and you can’t take it away completely, but to finish 11-7 [in the ACC], to win 23 games, to make the Tournament, to advance with the inexperience and to stay together [as] we went through some of the losses. I admired that about them, and I’ll always admire that. … This team got a lot from itself, and it’s a credit to them. It’s a credit to the coaching staff. But then yet to end it this way, to just get overwhelmed like that the last whatever minutes, just feeling a little bit outmatched was frustrating. But like I said, I challenged the guys that are returning. You’ve got to grow from this.”